Search for Signs of Animals in Winter

Outdoor Teaching Plan

Teacher’s Name: Julie Coffin

Class Grade Level(s) & School: Kindergarten, EECS

Subject: Science

Number of students : 20

Lesson: Search for Signs of Animals in the Winter

A.  Pre-Reflection

1.  What are your own teaching goals going into this project?

My teaching goals going into this lesson are to prepare students for the outdoor learning experience by providing background knowledge, managing behavior while outside of the classroom, and keeping the students safe while engaged in an interesting and exciting lesson.

2.  What are your goals for your students going into this?

  1. a. Process/skill goals

I hope the students will learn how to become close observers of nature.  I want to engage their sense of curiosity and wonder about the natural world and allow them time to enjoy the outdoors while exploring.  I want them to try to predict why something they notice looks the way it does and I hope they will practice transferring knowledge they learn from books to what they see outdoors in nature.

  1. b. Subject/content goals

I am hoping the students in my kindergarten class will be able to notice signs of animals in the winter.  That they will have ideas of where to search for signs of animals in winter and possibly predict which animals cause the sign.

B.  The Outdoor Teaching Plan (OTP)

1.  Materials

Binoculars, magnifying glasses,

Books used : In the Snow, The Mitten, Animals in Winter, Stranger in the Woods

2.  The Class/Project

a.  Prep before going outside (3 weeks/approx 30 minutes/day)

The class has enjoyed the story of The Mitten and read books about animals in the winter over the past three weeks.  They have had a lesson with Rachelle Curran (Maine Audubon) about animals in the winter and gone to the Audubon center in Falmouth on Feb 3rd to walk in the woods searching for signs of animals there.  The class has a good understanding of which animals are active in the winter in Maine.  I wanted to try a similar activity in our schoolyard.

Before going outside, I reminded the class about the trip to the Audubon.  We remembered some of the signs of animals we found there; squirrel nests, pine cones nibbled by red squirrels, holes in tree trunks, animal tracks in the snow and sightings of 3 downy woodpeckers.  We thought about what animals we might see near our school and signs of animals we may be able to find by reviewing which animals are active in the winter in Maine.  On the board, we brainstormed a list of what might be an animal home, food for an animal in the winter, and species of animals we might actually see out on our walk.  We discussed how we would stay together in a group unless given directions to search a small area.  We also talked about how this is not recess and that we would be carrying tools (binoculars and magnifying glasses) that we need to take care of and share.  I planned this activity on a day when my student intern would be there to help.

  1. b. Outside (30 minutes)

Description of Activity:

We made a plan to walk down the sidewalk toward the large trees on the far side of our play field.  We hoped to find evidence of animals in the undisturbed, wooded area and then return to our classroom past our classroom window where the bird feeder stands.

c. Classroom follow-up (60 minutes/2-3 days)

The class was excited to share what they saw and their predictions of the type of animals.  We met at the floor and reviewed the list that we had created before going outside.  I circled the animals, homes, or food that we found using a different color.  It was amazing how many we predicted we would see.  We found holes in trees, buds, leaves, nests, berries, birds, squirrels, tree stumps, and a den.

After lunch, we shared our findings with Mrs. Hewey’s kindergarten class (EECS) who also went out to find signs of animals in the winter. Mrs. Hewey’s class first told us where they went to search for signs of animals.  They described how they went across the street to the community garden, making sure we understood that it wasn’t the garden in our schoolyard.  They told us how they found a pile of vegetables and saw some holes that they think animals may live in.  They also saw some birds and squirrels and three nests up high in the trees.  A question that they had was how to know if the nests belong to squirrels or birds.  A couple of the students remembered that while at the Audubon, they learned that squirrel nests are made from leaves and bird nests are made from sticks and grass and straw.  Great connection!

My class then shared where they walked and all of the evidence of animals they found.  They shared how our foster grandmother feeds the birds outside our window and we got to see the cracked seeds and a hole nearby where a woodchuck and opossum were spotted in the Fall.   They told Mrs. Hewey’s class how they walked down the sidewalk toward a wooded area and found holes in trees, buds on trees, a den that was “this big” and berries and nests.  I encouraged the student from Mrs. Hewey’s class to make a picture to help us know where to go to see the garden and holes in the vegetable pile.  One of the students said, “You mean a map!“.  My class also decided to create a map to guide Mrs. Hewey’s class to the places we found evidence of animals or possible animal homes or food.

C. Reflection

This outdoor learning project was a perfect way to connect the learning from the Audubon and the books we have read in the classroom.  It has helped the students take notice of the nature around them and made them interested in becoming more keenly aware of what they are able to find right outside their door.  You don’t have to go to the Audubon to find signs of animals!

I believe that sharing enthusiasm with a colleague, planning the activity and bringing classrooms together were part of what made this activity so successful. In Schoolyard-enhanced Learning , Broda recommends surveying the site, avoiding the recess mind set and sharing resources.  All were helpful in keeping the class engaged and focused on the lesson I set out to provide.

Collaborating with Kristie Hewey and sharing our findings with her class made this lesson exciting and meaningful to the students.  We were so excited to receive the maps that her class made and used them to find the areas were they found evidence of animals in the winter.  I look forward to having our classes do future investigations, observations and sharing in the future.

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